Spain's Returning Heroes Prove That in Football, Bigger Isn't Always Better

Alex StampCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2009

La Liga returned this weekend after a winter break, and it was marked by the return of two of Spain's key players. Andres Iniesta made his comeback for Barcelona, arriving as a substitute to rescue his side against Real Mallorca scoring the goal that took them into the lead. While David Silva, missing for most of this season, made a sparkling return, scoring twice as Valencia grabbed an important victory over Atletico by three goals to one.

The return of these two is important news for the Spanish national team. These two are players who were key components of Spain's successful Euro 2008 side and that these two returned so successfully after such long lay off is testament to their own abilities as players.

Andres Iniesta is perhaps one of the most underrated players in Europe, his name was strangely absent among contenders for the Ballon d'or, yet he was a crucial part of Spain's team and a shining light in a disappointing campaign for Barcelona last year.

He is one of those players whose quiet nature and modesty prevents him from gaining true recognition and attention for his underrated qualities. He simply lets his actions on the pitch do the talking for him.

David Silva on the other hand is a player recognised across Europe as one of the finest attacking players on the continent. A young player whose game has been developing year on year, after a fantastic long-range goal against Chelsea he finally gained the recognition in England he deserved.

As his summer performances for Spain proved, in terms of speed, creativity and skill, there are few players to match him, and it was little surprise that he was a target for the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona over the summer.

Perhaps what these two players embody more than anything is the more intelligent and skillful aspect to football and that footballers can succeed by using brain over brawn.

Both Iniesta and Silva are hardly the largest of players, in terms of build they are tiny, with both Iniesta and Silvas standing 1.70 metres tall (around five foot five inches). Yet these two prove that in football, size really isn't everything.

Football has hardly been the domain of the athletic and muscular down the years. Often some of the best players down the years have been the more vertically challenged. Think Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas, Maradona, Romario, Youri Djorkaeff, Gerd Muller, or even modern day players such as Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Robinho, or even Arjen Robben.

These players weren't giants of men, but they were giants of football. They all proved that football is as much a game of intelligence and creativity as physical strength and might. None of them were the biggest men, but  that did not matter when it came to footballing talent-it shone through.

Even the best footballers come in all shapes and sizes. You don't have to be six feet tall in order to be successful. Often the most diminutive of players are the greatest, a lower centre of gravity often makes them harder to shrug off the ball, harder to challenge and as quick as a flash-until Usain Bolt came along many felt that the smaller the man, the quicker the sprinter.

One of the major developments in football over the past decade has been the emergence of a more athletic and physical side to the game. The likes of Patrick Vieira and George Weah were pioneers because they showed that in some cases, physical supremacy coupled with footballing skill could be an utterly effective weapon.

As a result we have seen that football has become pre-occupied with building athletes rather than footballers. Time spent in the gym was perhaps as important as time spent on the football pitch and strength and stamina as opposed to skill and technique became the main qualities of a modern footballer.

But what the likes of Iniesta and Silva are proving is that in these days of physical domination, the age old footballing traditions of skill, touch and creativity are what is important in football, no matter what shape and size package it comes in.

Just look across world football now, the Spanish team of the summer were hardly built of giants (Fabregas, Xavi, Villa etc), but that team was built on something else. For what they lacked in size, they more than made up for in ability, and it was ability that won. Also the Argentina team who triumphed at the Olympics, with Messi, Di Maria, and Gago—not without due cause are Argentina accused of building a team of dwarfs. 

But as Iniesta and Silva are proving, even though football has become the domain of the athlete, the age-old footballing qualities of skill and intelligence are as important now as they have always been-regardless of what shape and size they come in.  And these two are proving that in football, bigger isn't always better.